Drama, drama and more drama.
The 5A state tournament had plenty of it with two traditional powerhouse programs battling it out to the bitter end. And when the dust settled, Wasatch had won its 24th state championship in school history. It was the 22nd Wasp state title in the traditional format plus two in aborted dual meet format.
Wasatch scored 243.5 while Payson finished with 234. Box Elder was a distant third with 164 with Viewmont (140) fourth and Mountain View (111) rounding out the top five.
It seemed apropos that Wasatch’s superstar trio of wrestlers delivered the title as River Wardle (132 pounds), Sammy Heywood (138) and Stockton O’Brien (145) all nailed down titles. It was the third title for both Wardle and Heywood while O’Brien reached even more rarefied air with his fourth. Wardle is just a junior and will get a chance to claim his fourth gold medal next season.
O’Brien, who was named the Outstanding Wrestler of the lower weights, thought this individual and team state title was extra significant though the Wasps claimed three team titles while he was in the program.
“This one was special,” related O’Brien. “We came in as the underdogs and the two seniors, Sammy (Heywood) and I, got to seal the deal.”
O’Brien beat Viewmont’s Moses Espinoza-Owens, who is just a freshman and the Wasp star was very complimentary of his final’s opponent.
“It was the third time I’ve wrestled him, and he’s got better every time,” stated O’Brien. “He’s a fantastic athlete and a great competitor, and I think he will be one of the best ever in Utah history when it’s all said and done.”
It should be noted that Espinoza-Owens’ twin brother Marcus did win the 152-pound title.
Payson came into Thursday out in front of Wasatch by 4.5 points, but by the time the championship finals came around, Wasatch was ahead by 2.5 points.
But that lead didn’t last long as Payson’s Cole Jensen (120) defeated Wasatch’s Deklan Kelly 3-0 to put the Lions out in front by a mere point and a half. The Lions added to that total as at 126 pounds, in a battle of teammates, Layne Shepherd defeated Wyatt Hone 3-0. This put Payson ahead of Wasatch 234 to 228.5.
So Wardle’s victory over Farmington’s Parker Frasure, 4-3, pulled Wasatch within 1.5 points. Heywood’s win by pin over Brighton’s Anthonee Ouk surged Wasatch ahead by 4.5 points and then O’Brien’s 16-5 major decision win over Viewmont’s Espinoza-Owens clinched the title for the Wasps, even though Payson had one wrestler yet to compete. Payson’s Louis Wililams would be pinned by Farmington’s Jacob Anderson in the 195-pound championship final.
Though Heath Clyde finished second at 113 pounds after being pinned by Box Elder’s Bridger Ricks, his upset of Maple Mountain’s Brock Morris 9-8 in the semifinals was a critical difference maker in the team race.
“We could see it coming, he had that drive all year,” said Wasatch head coach Wade Discher about Clyde. “We felt it was going to be a really good match because that (Brock) Morris kid is just a great kid, a tough kid. We thought (as coaches) he could beat him on his feet and we just needed to avoid some things on the mat, and he did. He got in some trouble at times, but he worked through it.”
Though Heywood made quick work of Brighton’s Ouk in the finals, the Wasp survived a scare in his semifinal against Murray’s Conway Christensen.
In the final round, Christensen was ahead 10-8 but Heywood escaped and took down the Spartan right at the buzzer to prevail, 11-10.
“I got in my own head (in the match against Christensen). I had to dig deep.”
Heywood is very grateful to have wrestled in the Wasatch program and for Discher.
“I’ve been wrestling for him as far as I can remember, and I can sincerely say that I love that man.”
For Payson head coach Jeb Clark there was both disappointment but also gratitude for his team and the great competition that was the 2020 5A tournament.
“It was sure a great meet, a lot of fun,” said Clark. We came up short but you have to give Wasatch a lot of credit.”
Discher had nothing but praise for the Payson program and its coaches.
“Payson’s coaches and wrestlers are full of integrity.”
Discher related how in a consolation match at 120 pounds, where wrestlers from both programs squared off, that Wasatch’s Austin Kelly was called for an illegal slam against Cam Ford. But Ford bounced up and finished the match though some coaches and wrestlers in the past might have taken a default victory. Kelly ended up winning the match for third place which at the time seemed like it might be the difference between the two schools.
Besides Payson’s Jensen and Shepherd, Utah County posted two other individual championships with Maple Mountain’s Andrew Jensen (170) and Provo’s Jimmy Tomasi (285).
Tomasi won his second state title by pinning Mountain View’s Ryley Horrocks in the second round. However, that wasn’t Tomasi’s toughest match as he had to survive an epic semifinal bout to beat Box Elder’s Kellen Collier 3-2 in the ultimate tiebreaker. By downing the Bee grappler, Tomasi avenged his only defeat on the year.
“He (Collier) was my only loss, so I knew it was going to be a hard one,” said Tomasi. “It feels great (to be a 2-time state champion).”
For Discher, it was his ninth state title (traditional) and eleventh overall. Incidentally, Pleasant Grove’s Brock Moore won his ninth state title in the traditional format (tenth total) when the Vikings took home the gold in 6A. So now both have tied former Wasatch head coach Steve Sanderson, Delta’s Ladd Holman and former Uintah coach Dennis Preece for second most all-time in state history. Discher was also named the 5A Coach of the Year by vote of the coaches.
Other 5A Utah County schools teams were Maple Mountain eighth with 76 points, Lehi and Timpview tying for tenth with 50, Spanish Fork was 12th with 48, Provo 13th with 43, Timpanogos 17th with 28 points, Salem Hills 21st with 22, Springville 22nd with 21 and Orem failing to scratch a point finishing last in the 28-team field.
For complete team and individual results, visit trackwrestling.com.